Kyoto is Japan’s cultural capital and hugely popular with both local and overseas visitors. And why not, with a staggering line-up of some 1600 traditional temples on offer? It’s not difficult to choose a Kyoto temple to visit, but it’s best to put some thought into the process, especially if time is limited.
When choosing the best Kyoto temples to visit, we suggest spending a day or half day, depending on your schedule in a specific temple viewing district before moving on.
When considering the best temples in Kyoto to visit using the historic Randen Tram Kyoto, we selected three with differing styles. But before we go there I’ll answer that question on the tip of your tongue…
What You Will Find in This Post
- What’s Special About The Randen Tram Kyoto?
- The Meaning of Ji
- Which Kyoto Temple in Western Kyoto?
- How to ride the Randen Tram Kyoto.
- Where to Stay in Kyoto
What’s Special About The Randen Tram Kyoto?
Sometimes referred to as the Randen Train, Kyoto people love this traditional tram, whatever the name. It can be just a commute, but more importantly for Kyoto folks it is a link with tradition.
Once the whole of the city was served by trams but now there are just the two Randen Kyoto routes. If you are lucky enough to have a local guide they will most likely slip the Randen Tram into your Kyoto itinerary. It’s one of their classic Kyoto things to do.
As well as Kyoto temple viewing there are other fun experiences to access from the tram. Actually it’s possible to spend a couple of days hopping on and off and experiencing much more than just temples.
A family favourite is Toei Move Land at Randen Tenjingawa Station where a world of samurai, ninjas and geisha girls can be experienced.
One of the benefits of arriving in Arashiyama via the Randen is that the Keifuku Arashiyama terminus hides a Kimono Forest (think walkways lined with vibrant kimono wrapped posts) and the Pond of the Dragon (ensuring a safe trip). People arriving at the regular JR Arashiyama Station simply don’t know about this or the heated footbaths within!
Built in 1910, the box-like trams are painted a jaunty purple or green and wouldn’t look out of place in a Thomas the Tank Engine episode.
Skip to “How to ride the Randen Tram Kyoto” now, or continue reading about the three Kyoto temples on our itinerary.
The Meaning of Ji
Ji is the Japanese word for temple, but it’s common for both Ji and Temple to be written, for example Ninnaji Temple – which reads as Ninna Temple Temple. Crazy, but there you have it.
To get to our three Kyoto temples in Western Kyoto, take any tram on the Arashiyama Line and then transfer to the Kitano Line.
Which Kyoto Temple in Western Kyoto?
Western Kyoto is home to many temples so we chose three and they are all different.
- Peaceful Ninnaji,
- Contemplative yet busy Ryoanji (how can that be?)
- Kinkakuji – the golden temple, Kyoto.
Ninnaji Temple Kyoto
This temple’s huge front Nioman gate looms into view shortly after leaving the tram station. The street is only about 120 metres long, so it’s best to snap a photo while the gate still fits in frame.
NINNAJI is famous for it’s smallish, late blooming Omuro cherry trees. It is the head temple of the Omuro school of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism. Inside the Nioman Front Gate on the left, is the Goten building. Built as an imperial palace, it is a quiet timber oasis with it’s own zen rock garden, pool and manicured garden.
I love this temple.
The timber floors, smell of tatami matting, peaceful verandahs and garden with a tantalising pagoda backdrop are unforgettable. For these reasons and more, Ninnaji is at the top of my special Kyoto Temples list.
The pink Chumon Gate is smaller than the huge outer gate and leads to the rear half of this very spacious complex. I’m sure half of Kyoto’s population could visit at once and I’m sure they do come Cherry Blossom time. The oldest buildings date back to the 1600’s and include both gates, the five-storied Pagoda, Main Hall and Kannon Hall.
It is possible to have a KYOTO TEMPLE STAY at Ninnaji and attend morning service with the Monks in the Kondo building, the interior of which is not usually open to the public.
This Kyoto temple stay is top of my wish list for our next trip. The overnight fee of 11,000 yen per person includes entry to the Goten.
Visit in Mid April to view the late flowering cherry trees and read more about our visit to Ninnaji HERE.
The exit for Ninna Ji temple is Omuro-Ninnaji Station B05 on the Kitano Line.
Read more in the “how to do ride the Randen Tram Kyoto” section below.
- Address: 33 Omuroouchi, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8092
- Opening hours: 9 am – 5 pm and 9am – 4,30pm Dec/Feb. Last entry 30 minutes before closing.
- Cost: Goten: 500 yen adults and 300 yen teenagers. The rest of the complex is free except for Cherry Blossom Season: 600 yen.
Ryoanji Temple Kyoto
The Ryoanji Enlightenment Zen Garden is a famous Zen Rock Garden.
An aristocrat’s villa from the Heian Period, Ryoanji became a Zen temple in 1450. It belongs to the Rinzai sect whose head temple is nearby. The zen garden has 15 rocks placed around on patches of Moss on a raked gravel base. The mind-trick is that no matter where you are positioned only 14 of the 15 rocks can ever be seen at once.
The viewing platform is actually the Hojo or former head priest’s residence (open to public) and the entrance is via the former temple kitchen.
The zen garden viewing area is small and when shared with a group of school kids, it is not at all zen-like. If the rock garden is hectic, wander around the complex and enjoy the park and pond instead.
To appreciate the zen rock garden as it is meant to be, arrive at opening time. But don’t despair if this is not possible, because the total area of gardens is 120 acres and they are the real star of Ryoanji.
The Exit for Ryoanji temple is Ryoanji Station B7 on the Kitano Line.
It is also a 10 minute walk east from Ninnaji or 20 minute walk west of Kinkakuji.
- Address: 13 Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8001.
- Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm Mar/Nov and 8.30am – 4.30pm Dec/Feb.
- Cost: 500 yen
Kinkakuji Golden Temple Kyoto
Kinkakuji is a timber Zen Buddhist Temple and one of the famous Kyoto temples. The original 14th Century temple was burnt to the ground during the Onin war (1467–1477) and then again by a novice monk in 1950 with the re-built version opening in 1955. The novice was mentally unstable and the whole story is very sad. He tried to commit suicide afterward but was saved, while his shamed mother succeeded in her attempt. The book “Temple of Golden Pavilion” by Yukio Mishima tells the story. Most but not all of the treasures within were saved.
The temple’s top two floors are coated externally in gold leaf, creating a shimmering golden reflection in the temple pond at the front.
Open 9 am to 5 pm. Admission 400 Yen.
The exit for Kinkakuji Temple is Ryoanji B7 the Kitano Line.
Or Walk from Ninna-ji or Ryoan-ji as per the above map.
- Address: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361
- Opening Hours: 9am – 5pm
- Cost: 400 yen
Map showing how to walk from Ninnaji to Ryoanji and Kinkakuji.
How to ride the Randen Tram Kyoto.
- There are two interconnecting routes on the Randen Kyoto line – the Arashiyama and the Kitano.
- The first Randen Tram line to take is the Arashiyama Line.
- The Arashiyama Line begins at Shijo-Omiya Station.
- Hankyu Line connects the City Centre with Shijo-Omiya Station.
- We joined the Hankyu Line at Karawamachi Station, exiting at Hankyu-Omiya.
- It is also possible to catch a No. 26, 28 or 206 City Bus from Kyoto Station to Hankyu-Omiya Station. Buses are slightly cheaper but do take longer and often get grid-locked, but with plenty of time it could be fun.
- If arriving by train, exit Hankyu Omiya station and cross above-ground to Shijo-Omiya station (A1 on the Randen Arashiyama Line) to purchase tickets.
- If the station of entry is unmanned, it is possible to pay on exiting the tram.
How to get to Arashiyama on the Randen Arashiyama Line
- The Arashiyama Line runs east –west for 7.2 km from Shijo-Omiya Station to the Randen (Keifuku) Arashiyama Station.
- The whole trip takes 22 minutes.
- Temples on this line include Koryuji Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in Kyoto, famous for it’s wooden statue of the “future Buddha” and the Zen temple Rokuoin for Autumn Coloured maple leaves.
- Arashiyama is a scenic Kyoto district famous for HOZUGAWA RIVER AND TOGETSUKYO BRIDGE, the BAMBOO FOREST and Arashiyama Monkey Park.
- Three of the best temples to view at ARASHIYAMA are Tenryuji, Gioji and Jojakukoji.
- Visit Arashiyama separately as it requires a whole day to itself.
How to reach our three temples on the Kitano Line.
How to access Ninnaji on the Kitano Line
- Change from the Arashiyama Line to the Kitano Line at Katabiranotsuji (A9) (B1).
- The Kitano Line is 3.8 km long with 10 stops.
- Exit at Omuro-Ninnaji Station (B5) to Ninnaji – it’s only a 3 minute walk and clearly visible on exiting the station.
How to access Ryoanji and Kinkakuji on the Kitano Line
- Exit at Ryoanji Station (B7) for Ryoanji and then walk to Kinkakuji the Golden Temple – see map above.
- You can also walk to Ryoanji and Kinkakuji from Ninnaji – see map above.
More Kitano Line Temples
- Myoshinji Temple Complex is huge with 40 sub-temples, most not open to the public but good for a wander. Four are open all-year round: Taizo-in, Shunko-in, Daishin-in and Keishun-in.
- Tojiin Temple has a striking painting of the Buddhist saint Daruma and a lovely garden.
- Hirano Shrine is visited for it’s gardens and for it’s 1000 year old cherry blossom festival.
- Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is notable for it’s plum blossom orchard.
- Adults: 210 yen. Children: 110 yen.
- All Day Ticket 500 yen and 250 yen respectively. Purchase from Shijo Omiya, Kitano Hakubaicho, Arashiyama or Katabiranotsuji Stations. This ticket also includes some discounts for temples and attractions in Kyoto.
- The Kansai Card can be used on the Keifuku Electric Railway (Randen).
- The Japan Rail Pass cannot be used.
Where to Stay in Kyoto
Traditionally dressed Maiko in Southern Higashiyama.
Book well in advance during Spring and Autumn, especially if like us you want to stay for an extended period (2 weeks in our case).
Although this post is about temples in Western Kyoto, we suggest visiting them and the Randen Tram on a day trip, making Southern Higashiyama your base, especially if this is your first visit.
While Southern Higashiyama doesn’t have the Randen Tram, it does have many important and beautiful temples plus a vibrant atmosphere. Traditionally dressed locals abound in the cute traditional lanes of Southern Higashiyama.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into traditional Kyoto temples via the Randen Tram. Which is your favourite Kyoto temple?
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